ASX flat as healthcare and consumer stocks dip

By Millie Muroi

The Australian sharemarket struggled to gain momentum despite Wall Street edging higher, as healthcare and consumer stocks slumped.

The S&P/ASX 200 was up 4.9 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 7199.8 in early afternoon trade as all sectors except materials and utilities traded in the red.

The Australian sharemarket moved sideways on Friday, despite a positive lead from Wall Street.
The Australian sharemarket moved sideways on Friday, despite a positive lead from Wall Street.Credit: AFR

REITS (down 0.5 per cent) were among the weakest companies on the local bourse as Vicinity Centres shed 0.9 per cent, Mirvac lost 0.7 per cent and GPT Group declined 0.8 per cent.

Consumer staples (down 0.3 per cent) also fell, as supermarket giants Woolworths (down 0.3 per cent) and Coles (down 0.1 per cent) both dropped, with Treasury Wine Estates (down 1.5 per cent) among the biggest large-cap decliners.

The healthcare sector (down 0.4 per cent) slipped as ProMedicus (down 1.4 per cent), Sonic Healthcare (down 1 per cent) and Ramsay Healthcare (down 0.9 per cent) all dropped.

Miners (up 0.5 per cent) were among the strongest performers on Friday despite iron ore prices dropping 0.5 per cent overnight. The country’s biggest company BHP stepped up 0.5 per cent along with gold miners Newcrest (up 1.1 per cent) and Evolution (up 0.8 per cent).

Energy companies (up 0.8 per cent) advanced after Brent Crude oil prices edged up 0.5 per cent. Santos (up 1.2 per cent) was the biggest large-cap advancer.

Most stocks ticked higher on Wall Street following the latest signs that the US economy remains stronger than feared.

The S&P 500 rose 0.4 per cent and is on track for its sixth winning week in the last seven. The Dow Jones gained 0.8 per cent while the Nasdaq composite edged down by less than 0.1 per cent.


Yields jumped in the bond market after data showed the US economy grew at a 2 per cent annual rate in the first three months of the year, much stronger than the 1.3 per cent rate earlier estimated. Another report said fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected, a sign that the job market remains remarkably solid despite much higher interest rates meant to slow the overall economy.

The S&P 500 rose 0.4 per cent and is on track for its sixth winning week in the last seven.
The S&P 500 rose 0.4 per cent and is on track for its sixth winning week in the last seven.Credit: Bloomberg

“The US economy is currently displaying genuine signs of resilience,” said Gregory Daco, chief economist at EY. “This is leading many to rightly question whether the long-forecast recession is truly inevitable.”

On one hand, the data is a positive for investors because they suggest the economy can keep growing and support profits for companies, which are the lifeblood of the stock market. Stocks of companies whose profits are most tied to the strength of the economy were among Wall Street’s biggest gainers, including those in the financial, raw-material and energy industries.

But on the other hand, the resilient data could also push the Federal Reserve to see the economy as strong enough to keep hiking interest rates to drive down inflation. That kept the S&P 500 swinging between small gains and losses for much of the morning.

The Fed has pulled rates higher at a blistering pace since early last year. High rates slow inflation by dragging on the entire economy. They have already hurt manufacturing and other industries, while helping to cause three high-profile failures in the US banking system.

Thursday’s data pushed up expectations among traders for the Fed to raise rates twice more this year, according to data from CME Group. That’s what the Fed has been suggesting it would do, but Wall Street has been slow to accept it.

The shift helped drive the two-year Treasury yield up to 4.87 per cent from 4.71 per cent late Wednesday. It tends to track expectations for Fed action.

The 10-year yield rose to 3.83 per cent from 3.71 per cent. It helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans.

In the stockmarket, banks rallied to some of the biggest gains. Wells Fargo rose 4.5 per cent, JPMorgan Chase climbed 3.5 per cent and US Bancorp gained 2.9 per cent.

The Federal Reserve said late Wednesday that the nation’s 23 largest banks would be able to survive a severe recession in its latest “stress test” of the system. Failing the test would have restricted banks from paying dividends or buying back their own stock to send cash to shareholders.

A stronger economy could also help banks make more money from lending, though higher interest rates could pressure their balance sheets.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned Thursday the central bank may have to tighten regulation of the system after several banks collapsed when rising rates knocked down the value of bonds bought and other investments made when rates were ultra low.

Much scrutiny has been on smaller and mid-sized banks as Wall Street hunts for the next potential weak links in the system. Several rose Thursday to trim their big losses from earlier this year. PacWest Bancorp gained 3.3 per cent, for example.

On the losing end of Wall Street was McCormick. The spices company fell 5.5 per cent after reporting weaker revenue for the latest quarter than expected, though its profit topped expectations. It also raised its forecasted range for profits this year, but only the top end of the range for earnings per share matched analysts’ expectations.

Micron Technology fell 4.1 per cent for another one of the biggest declines in the S&P 500 after forecasting a larger loss for the summer than analysts expected. That was despite the memory and storage company reporting stronger results for the latest quarter than expected. Micron also said it thinks the bottom has passed for the chip industry’s revenue, and it expects profit margins to improve.

With AP

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